William Henry Fox Talbot – Pioneer Photographer

Day 133 of Colourisation Project – September 17

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born in 1800 in Dorset, England, William Henry Fox Talbot was a British inventor chemist, linguist, archaeologist, and pioneer photographer who is credited with being one of the inventors of photography.

Talbot invented the calotype process, a precursor to photographic processes of the 19th and 20th centuries.  (The term calotype comes from the Greek kalos, ‘beautiful’ and tupos, ‘impression’). In the 1840s his work on photo-mechanical reproduction led to the creation of the photoglyphic engraving process, the precursor to photogravure.

Talbot had begun experimenting with light-sensitive chemistry in mid 1834.  By 1841 he had discovered a way of producing multiple positive prints from one single negative through shortened exposure times. At that point, modern photography, as we know it, was born.

Photographer: John Moffat – William Henry Fox Talbot 1864 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Four brilliant minds were simultaneously working and fighting for paternity rights to love child photography in the middle of the 19th century. Along with Talbot there was Joseph Niépce and Louis Daguerre in France, and the preeminent astronomer and scientist Sir John Herschel in England.

Though Daguerre is usually credited with being the founder of photography, had Talbot’s method been announced just two weeks earlier, he and not Daguerre would probably have taken out the title.

Niépce was first to capture an image. In 1825 he developed heliography, a technique where a print is created from a photoengraved printing plate. In 1826 or 1827, he used a primitive camera to produce the oldest surviving photograph of a real-world scene, a view from the window of his country estate at Le Gras in France.  Thus Niépce is usually credited as the inventor of photography.

French inventor, Daguerre improved upon Niépce’s ideas and had a working process before Talbot did but Talbot’s device was an improvement over Daguerre’s daguerreotype.

Herschel, whom Talbot had been corresponding with, is credited with taking the first ever glass plate photograph in 1839 and with coining the term, photography. He was also the first to apply the terms negative and positive to photography.

So who is the father of photography?  Well it’s still up for debate suffice to say they all had critical inputs into contributing to the development of photography. We have these pioneers to thank for our hobbies, passions or photographic work today.

In 1842 Talbot received a medal from the British Royal Society for his experiments with the calotype.

Talbot who was educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, published many articles in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, physics and photography.

From 1844 to 1846, he wrote The Pencil of Nature, the first commercially published book to be illustrated with photographs. Issued in six installments, it contained twenty-four calotype prints with accompanying explanatory text. The plates document the beginnings of photography primarily through studies of art objects and architecture.

Talbot was also a noted photographer who made major contributions to the development of photography as an artistic medium. He made some important early photographs of Oxford, Paris, Reading, and York.

Talbot died 17 September 1877.


“The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our ‘natural magic’, and may be fixed forever in the position which seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy… Such is the fact, that we may receive on paper the fleeting shadow, arrest it there and in the space of a single minute fix it there so firmly as to be no more capable of change.”  –  William Henry Fox Talbot (1839)

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